Welcome back to Ready Player Gone’s feature ‘Gamepass Gold or Garbage’. Where we play a game available on Gamepass at random and let you know our thoughts, whether we think it’s worth your time or not. The game I am looking at this time is A Plague Tale: Innocence, an action adventure / horror stealth game set around the plague.
I remember seeing trailers in the buildup to A Plague Tale: Innocence’s release and not being very interested in it. At the time I wasn’t really enthusiastic about linear story driven games anymore, especially buying them as you play them once and never play them again. I did however see a few recommendations for this game recently on Reddit so thought I would give it a chance. Now I regret not having played it sooner.
You play as Amicia, a fifteen year old French noble from the De Rune family. When you are introduced to her it is apparent that she isn’t your typical lady, as she has aspirations to be a hunter. She spends most of her time with her dad as her mum is otherwise indisposed looking after her brother Hugo, whom Amicia never sees for unknown reasons. At the start of the game you are on a little training hunt with your dad and hunting dog Lion. Equipped with your trusty sling you find a boar and wound it but it escapes. Lion chases in pursuit and you follow, only to come across the boar already ripped to shreds. Amicia naturally questions this, as there’s no way Lion could have done it, and that’s when you hear a faint yelp in the distance. Fearing the worst you cautiously approach the noises and find Lion half hanging out of a burrow in the ground, clearly wounded, only for him to be pulled under with blood gushing everywhere.
You run back to the castle with your dad to warn everyone and you are tasked with telling your mother. When you get to her it is apparent that Amicia has been shut out by her mother, as she says she has no time for her. All of a sudden there is a commotion out in the courtyard, Inquisition knights interrogating your dad for the whereabouts of Hugo, your brother. They end up killing your dad and begin to raid the castle looking for Hugo, killing everyone that won’t spill the beans. Your mum goes to help and you are left as Hugo’s only chance at survival, and throughout the whole game he rarely leaves your side, always there holding your hand. It seems like it could be annoying, like one of those quests you have to make sure an npc doesn’t die yet they act like they’ve only got one brain cell, but it isn’t. Hugo feels like an extension of yourself, as he is holding your hand unless you tell him not to, which I never did, he goes wherever you go and does whatever you do. You are reunited with your mum and she does the classic ‘go on without me’ shutting the gates behind you as you escape, telling you to meet a doctor named Laurentius. And so your journey starts.
At first I thought Hugo was a nob, even if he is only five years old, but not without reason. At one point you’re hiding from an angry mob who are just on the other side of the door obviously trying to be quiet, and he starts repeatedly smacking a wooden mallet on the floor shouting that he wants his mummy. I know we’re going through a bit of a distressing time right now but at that point I just wanted to open the door and kick him into the mob’s pitchforks to save them the trouble. I think this is done really well and is intentional from the developers to evoke this emotion, as Amicia has barely seen Hugo before due to him being a shut away, so naturally they barely have a relationship. As the game progresses though their relationship grows, and so did my fondness for Hugo. He’s got that silly innocence that a toddler has, saying things wrong like accyduck (aqueduct), and looking at the world in a pure and wholesome way. Even with all the shit he’s been through and has yet to go through, that is a very likeable virtue. Even one of the collectables in each level is a flower, which Hugo puts in your hair after describing the quality this certain flower has, and how it will protect you, he’s just sweet. Some times you go on little missions without him, and I really missed the sister/brother dynamic they have when he wasn’t there.
The most direct comparison to gameplay I can make is The Last of Us, it is similar in almost every aspect. The stealth works exactly the same, you can throw stuff to distract enemies and sneak past them, you can craft items on the fly in your inventory. The only difference is this is set in the 1500’s so naturally there are no guns, but you do have a sling that can one shot people so you don’t really miss the extra firepower. You even have the same dynamic of a blossoming relationship to enjoy along the way. I hope that if they release a sequel Amicia doesn’t get killed off in the first few hours because she follows a rat into a room and lets him know she hasn’t got the plague, then the rat gets a golf club and caves her head in or some shit I dunno.
The stealth is done pretty well but it’s nothing new, and it has the usual crappy AI you can expect in gaming. Some waist length grass will hide you if you’re crouched, throw a pot behind an enemy and they’ll inspect it way longer than they should etc. At first I thought stealth would be all it had to offer. I didn’t expect to be fighting much but boy you can rack up quite the kill count by the end if you choose to. Amicia is deadlier than David with her sling, and you get some deadly upgrades along the way too.
You unlock different ammo types along the way which keeps the gameplay interesting, alchemy proving to be one of Amicia’s strong suits you can craft different substances that do different things. My favourites are; One that can light fires from a distance, providing there are embers already in place of course. One that can put out a fire, which can be used on enemies torches, rendering them sitting ducks for rats. One that can melt steel, so you can remove the helmets from more powerful enemies, letting you yeet a rock at their temple. One that can attract rats to a spot of your choice, so you can get past them. Like I said earlier I had no idea combat would even be a viable option, let alone have deeper systems like having to strip away armour before being able to get the kill.
Right, this game is about the plague – it’s in the bloody title! And I’ve barely mentioned rats so here goes. The first time you are introduced to them, you’re in the basement of a monastery following a monk. He passes you his torch (big mistake) and then starts heading down some steps, looking for his other monk friend. Some faint scuffling and gradually heightening squeaks lead to all of the candles swiftly snuffing out, and a wave of little red eyed plague carriers pour all over the monk, stripping him to the bone in seconds. It is a phenomenal introduction, setting the precedence that you will feel uneasy whenever they are swarming around. There were times in the monastery where I would walk past a half eaten monk – they only ate him below the belt the naughty buggers – and shout at the rats to leave me alone and tuck in to the rest of him instead. Even Hugo joined in shouting at the rats to leave us alone.
Luckily they are afraid of any form of light, so if you have a torch you are untouchable. Some torches never run out but you conveniently have to climb sometimes to leave them behind, and other times you just end up burning a twig to get through. I had a funny moment with photo mode when I had one of these sticks. I was in the middle of a mischief of rats going in and out of photo mode attempting to get the perfect snap for this review, trying to get the perfect pose and angle. Completely forgetting that my source of light was dwindling until I was surrounded by darkness, red eyes rushing towards me and pulling me to the ground. Sorry Amicia. I imagined that sort of thing genuinely happening if the plague was around today. Some ‘influencer’ would 100% die trying to get a pic for the gram with all the cute little ratties.
The rats are deadly, and seem to bring out questionable moral decisions that Amicia has to make. There’s an instance where you have to get through a barn, but the way is impeded by the scuttling mass of disease. You notice a solitary pig outside – the last survivor – and lure it in with some feed. Along the way Hugo gets increasingly excited, anxious to feed the piggy – unknowing that you will be feeding the pig, just not in the way he thought. Distracting the rats with some juicy gammon and hightailing it to safety. There are also times where you have choice, at one point there are a group of rats in between you and a wounded soldier, and if you keep approaching him the rats edge closer to him too, trying to avoid your light. If you just carry on toward him I imagine he’d end up as rat food but if you turn around and look there is a sconce on the wall so you can hang your torch up, sparing him that excruciating end.
It’s incredibly tense when your only option is to run, rats bursting from the ground left right and centre. I haven’t played a single player game in quite some time that got my heart racing like this. The setting, scenery and level design definitely helps. You go from idyllic autumnal country sides with dilapidated cottages, basking in the scenery, to muddy battle torn fields littered with rotting fallen soldiers, squelching through the sludge. The graphics are quite similar to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, even the music is too. I love fantasy settings and this game hits the spot just right.
A Plague Tale: Innocence also has some puzzles littered throughout and I praise the dev’s for making them easy. For once you don’t have to be Einstein to figure them out, or feel degraded by turning to your good ol’ pal Google for the solution. It’s another pro from me, I just hate it when the flow of a game gets interrupted by an unnecessarily brain muddling puzzle. The game isn’t hard, and not every game needs to be so that’s a nice change. It’s an overall pleasant experience, minus the death, decay and plague.
The story actually hasn’t just one sole focus which I found surprising, I have been very vague in only telling you the beginning as I feel you deserve to experience it first hand. If you like fantasy and a good linear single player game, give it a go! There are some supernatural elements but it all stays completely grounded in reality due to the grittiness of the world. I felt that it could have actually been set in the same universe as Dishonored, and also a little bit of Resident Evil at times due to the villain, who you meet in the second half of the game.
Overall the gameplay is fine, it’s engaging enough to keep you playing and there are a lot of different ways to go about situations but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, therefor not being where the game shines. The story, characters and world are what kept me intrigued and playing to the end, and also making me want a sequel. You could even look at this as somewhat of an origin story of Hugo in some ways, so it would be nice to pick up the controller and play as him sometime in the future.
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